Signs of far off spring

Not yet a third of the way through winter, and already the gardener looks for hopeful signs of spring. Two, too long months remain, and while winter flowering mahonias and witch hazels brighten this gray period, any glimpse of color from late winter and spring bloomers is most encouraging.

Stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, is unusually early this winter, typically flowering in early spring.

Stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, is unusually early this winter, typically flowering in early spring.

In the unusual January with only a few spells of cold, the gardener expects foliage of spring bulbs to break ground, and occasionally to see a stray bloom. Hellebores with Christmas rose genetics might begin to flower by late December, or much later into late February if delayed by cold and covered by snow. While there has been little severe cold until this week, temperatures have not been so mild as to encourage early flowering, so the anxious gardener must examine the usual suspects close up.

Leatherleaf mahonia shows a bit of color in early January. In a mild winter the mahonia might reach peak bloom by late in the month, though this usually is delayed until late February or March.

Leatherleaf mahonia shows a bit of color in early January. In a mild winter the mahonia might reach peak bloom by late in the month, though this usually is delayed until late February or March.

‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ mahonias remain in bloom in early January, with late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonias (Mahonia bealei, above) beginning to show the slightest bit of color. In the mildest winters, flowers of the autumn and late winter flowering types will overlap, but typically there will be several weeks between. With cold temperatures forecast, leatherleaf’s buds are not likely to budge for a while.

In early January, Summer Ice daphne is ready to flower in a period of mild temperatures. Usually, buds remain until early spring, but occasionally there will be a stray winter bloom.

In early January, Summer Ice daphne is ready to flower in a period of mild temperatures. Usually, buds remain until early spring, but occasionally there will be a stray winter bloom.

Two long flowering daphnes, ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’, above) bloomed into late November, and buds are at the ready to open with a week of mild weather. The splendid, variegated Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, below) is unlikely to flower until late winter, after more extended periods of mild temperatures. The gardener is ever vigilant until spring is here to stay.

Variegated Winter daphne in January

Variegated Winter daphne in January. One winter in twenty it will flower in late January or early February, but there seems no chance of that this winter.

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